Sunday, July 24, 2016

Exposing the Siberian Candidate

Journalists have begun to explore connections between Putin (and pals) and Trump (and especially his campaign manager.)  But they've come front and center Sunday with Clinton campaign charges that the recent Wikileaks dump of DNC internal emails was orchestrated by the Russian government specifically as the Democratic National Convention is about to begin, in order to further the Trump candidacy.

Stories on these charges in the New York Times and Washington Post both suggested that the security consultants they asked did agree that the theft of these emails was likely the work of Russian spy agencies and the Times added that using them to influence an election would be a well known Russian tactic.

Trump's recent statements on NATO, the RNC platform change on Ukraine to soften it in favor of the Russian position, and Trump's well-known admiration for Putin suggest quid pro quo.  Numerous business ties between Trump and Russian oligarchs are also known.  

As mentioned here before, Paul Krugman joined Jonathan Chiat and other journalists of repute in suggesting that there is enough known to warrant serious investigation.  But the most detailed and damning articles I've seen are by Franklin Foer at Slate.  The shortest piece, that sums up the situation before today, notes that "Trump has a long history of sucking up to Russian political leaders to advance his business interests in that country. His praise of Putin has correlated with large infusions of Russian cash into his real estate projects. Furthermore, his campaign is staffed by aides with financial ties to the Russian state."

Foer also notes some of his reporting on Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort: "Manafort didn’t just represent oligarchs tight with the Kremlin. He became business partners with them. He ran a private equity fund in which the aluminum magnate (and Putin pal) Oleg Deripaska invested millions. As the Washington Post has shown, this fund didn’t exactly do much investing. In fact, Manafort struggled to account for the cash he received. And rather than pay back Deripaska, he apparently went underground."

Foer's detailed pieces on Manafort and his "consulting, and especially on Trump as the perfect Siberian Candidate are, in a brutalizing campaign, even more shocking.  Trump may be working for the Russians; at the very least, with Russian oligarchs for their mutual enrichment.  And Putin really does seem to be working for the Trump campaign.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Anti-Trump

Update: Holy Crap, Tim Kaine just killed it in his first speech with Clinton, writes Michael Tomasky, in his piece entitled The Anti-Trump. Also this description of their first joint appearance, with tweets in response.

And as usual, Borowitz has the last word:"The involvement of a seemingly decent human being in the 2016 election campaign left American voters stunned and deeply bewildered on Saturday. In interviews across the country, voters expressed reactions ranging from shock to total incomprehension at the campaign d├ębut of a man who, at first blush, exhibits none of the outward characteristics of a sociopath or clinical narcissist."

Like many, I didn't recall a lot about Tim Kaine.  I'm embarrassed to admit that in some respects I even had him a bit confused with the current Virginia governor, who I don't much like.  But everything I've read about him today has me believing that he's an excellent choice for Clinton's vice-president.

It's been clear for a few days that he was going to be the choice, especially once Clinton said that her top priority was someone who could take on the job of President immediately, if necessary, and who had foreign policy experience. Apart from the sitting Senators that were considered earlier, only Kaine qualified in both respects.

 It's worth noting in this regard that Kaine was on the shortlist for Obama's vp in 2008, and his lack of foreign policy experience then was a factor against him.  It was after that he ran for the Senate and made sure he got on armed services and foreign affairs committees. That's something that Tom Perez and others mentioned should consider if they have national aspirations.  Perez (as I noted) would be a politically galvanizing choice, but Hillary probably judged him as not quite ready for the big chair in terms of experience.

In any case, Kaine is a good choice.  In most respects, he is the Anti-Trump: he is genial, self-effacing, compassionate, positive, respected for working across party lines, knowledgeable and free of scandal.  He is deeply experienced at governing, moving up from city council to governor of Virginia to the U.S. Senate.  He's never lost an election.

Politically he has a perfect score on women's issues from Planned Parenthood, and an F from the NRA.  He's got a pretty strong environmental record (though nobody mentioned was especially known for focusing on the Climate Crisis.)  He was the first major officeholder to back Barack Obama in 2008.

The Bernicrats seem to hold two things against him.  One is his support of trade agreements--reasonable people can differ on this, though I believe the effect of trade agreements on jobs is overdrawn, especially in comparison to other factors. (I know for example that the loss of Big Steel in Pittsburgh had little to do with it, and I was there.)

The second is his recent request that the differences between community banks and credit unions on the one hand, and big commercial banks on the other, be considered in banking regulations.  Some Bernicrats say this means he's for bank de-regulation, which is the kind of nonsense that may get donations for your organization but which is a destructive distortion.  (Maybe people in urban areas don't appreciate the roles of community banks and credit unions, but in small places we do.)

When Trump went all fear and hate, the opportunity that the Dems are likely to take is to go all hope and we're in this together.  Kaine is perfect for that.  Not only is he basically positive, even his negative campaigning includes the positive, as when he asked the Hillary crowd: Do you want a ‘You’re fired’ president or a ‘You’re hired’ president? Do you want a trash-talker president or a bridge-builder president?"

What's especially going to make Kaine an effective candidate (if the campaign plays these cards right) has more to do with the details of his story.  He grew up in the Midwest and succeeded as a liberal in a fairly conservative southern state.  As Governor, he managed the state through the Virginia Tech gun violence aftermath and became a strong advocate for gun control.

As a lawyer he represented death row prisoners and victims of housing discrimination.  Even Republicans admire him both for being bipartisan and for being true to his convictions.  He didn't waver or waffle, one said.

 His son is an infantry officer.  He attends a mostly black Catholic church (and sings in the gospel choir), and lived in an integrated neighborhood in Richmond.  He speaks Spanish, having learned it teaching in a Jesuit school in central America.

He's low-key and says he's boring.  But he plays the harmonica.  He carries one with him, loves to play with bluegrass bands.  Anybody who does that is not, to my mind, boring.  Even if he may not be that good.  (He says his wife says 'Hey, you ought to play anytime they ask you because as soon as you're not in elected office, they're not going to ask you anymore.' ")

Elizabeth Warren is still a superstar, and her appearances with and without Hillary will still electrify crowds.  Same with Cory Booker. Tom Perez is less known generally but still can be helpful with Latino voters.  And of course there's Bernie, Bill and the most popular politician in America at the moment: President Obama.

Kaine brings out the best parts of Hillary's biography and record, and balances against the worst.  I hope they are working overtime to get this across at the Dem convention next week.

For that's the opportunity here: like me, most people don't know much about Tim Kaine.  Everybody knows way too much about Hillary and Trump (or they think they do.)  The GOPers blew whatever opportunity they had to introduce Mike Pence as a real person.  The ball is now in the Dems court, and they better not drop it.

The Red-Faced Menace (continued)

Reaction to Trump and his acceptance speech continued on Friday, with striking strength and unanimity: this guy is truly dangerous.

Both the Washington Post and New York Times editorially warned of the disaster to the United States that a Trump presidency would be.  Other news organizations suggested the same, while some opinion sites were even stronger.

Individuals added insights, elaborations and unique expressions.  In his WAPost opinion piece called This is how fascism comes to Amerca, scholar Robert Kagan delineated the possible process that only begins with Trump's election.  "To understand how such movements take over a democracy, one only has to watch the Republican Party today. These movements play on all the fears, vanities, ambitions and insecurities that make up the human psyche."  If Trump succeeds in winning based on these, they will play out and entrench themselves.

Those GOPer pols who back him for political expediency will find themselves just as victimized as everyone else.  (JFK had a metaphor for this in his Inaugural: Those who try to ride the back of the tiger might wind up inside.) Kagan:

 "What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. By then that following will have grown dramatically. Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the election, his legions will likely comprise a majority of the nation. Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command..."

Trump's election is unlikely to happen, but among those who insist that it could happen are Frank Rich at New York and John Cassidy at the New Yorker.

And another voice has been added to those wondering about Trump's ties to Putin and Russia--the estimable Paul Krugman, in his column The Siberian Candidate. Noting Trump's public infatuation with Putin (along with other rabid rightists), the involvement of his campaign manager in Putin-backed political campaigns, he wonders about the extent of Putin and Russian involvement in Trump's business empire, much of which is not known, partly because Trump refuses to release his tax returns. "We do know that he has substantial if murky involvement with wealthy Russians and Russian businesses. You might say that these are private actors, not the government — but in Mr. Putin’s crony-capitalist paradise, this is a meaningless distinction."

Krugman concludes: At some level, Mr. Trump’s motives shouldn’t matter. We should be horrified at the spectacle of a major-party candidate casually suggesting that he might abandon American allies — just as we should be horrified when that same candidate suggests that he might welsh on American financial obligations. But there’s something very strange and disturbing going on here, and it should not be ignored.

Of all the pieces published since Trump's speech that I've read, Timothy Egan's column Make America Hate Again in the New York Times is the most succinct and eloquent.  Evaluating the entire GOP convention he wrote: "For a campaign now devoted to “law and order,” the launch was mob rule: in spirit, in tone, in words. Long after we’ve forgotten Trump’s closing speech — that paean to self, that nightmare portrait of an America where the lights have gone out — we will remember the savagery just below the surface."

That savagery emerged in one pointed set of terms popular at the convention, described in the New York magazine blog piece called How 'Bitch' Became the Word of the Republican National Convention. 

Absorbing and evaluating all this is not pleasant, so as usual we turn to Borowitz at the New Yorker for his take:

Trump Succeeds in Delivering Speech No One Will Want to Plagiarize

According to his staff, Trump and his speechwriters had been working overtime during the week to create a tirade that was sufficiently bloated, unhinged, and terrifying to discourage potential plagiarists from reusing excerpts in the future.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Red-Faced Menace

The Hitler side of Trump won out over the appeaser in his acceptance speech, which should be taught in any self-respecting class on demagoguery.

The speech is built on the three pillars of demagoguery:

1. Assert (with lies) that everything is dangerously falling apart, and everyone else in authority is in on it.

2.  Assert that "I" am the only one who can fix it.

3.  I will fix it as the voice and the servant of the humble masses, who no one else is listening to or understands.

Jeff Greenfield: In this speech, we have finally seen the answer to the perplexing question of just what political philosophy Donald Trump embraces. It is Caesarism: belief in a leader of great strength who, by force of personality, imposes order on a land plagued by danger. If you want to know why Trump laid such emphasis on “law and order”—using Richard Nixon’s 1968 rhetoric in a country where violent crime is at a 40-year low—it is because nations fall under the sway of a Caesar only when they are engulfed by fear. And the subtext of this acceptance speech was: be afraid; be very afraid."

Caesar was about the kindest comparison.  Jonathan Alter and Bill Maher referenced Mussolini, as much for style. Other words used to described this approach include authoritarian, totalitarian, or more plainly, dictator.  There are nuances of difference in all these terms, but there's no nuance in Trump.

"This is the classic theme of an authoritarian seeking to manipulate the masses by raw emotion," wrote conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin.

What else can you say about someone who misidentifies the problems, then offers absolutely no solution but electing him, without any idea of what he will do to, for instance, end crime on the day he takes office, or create full employment?

I've been calling him Comrade Trump, partly as irony for the Red-baiting tradition of (among others) Trump's mentor, Roy Cohn; partly to emphasize Trump's ties to Putin and the resulting and disquieting possibility of Russian interests trumping American; partly to emphasize Trump's totalitarian tendencies. I suppose there's further irony in that there don't seem to be any functioning Communists even in Russia.

(Speaking of Russia, A  roundup of global reaction to the speech--not exactly laudatory-- included two tweets from former chess champ and dissident Russian political figure Gary Kasparov including: "I’ve heard this sort of speech a lot in the last 15 years and trust me, it doesn’t sound any better in Russian." Maybe that's why most official Russian response was positive.)

But it's Trump the dictator, with the racist message of a Hitler, that comes across most clearly in this speech.  It's all out there now.  

GOP pollster Frank Luntz is among those who think Trump's acceptance speech worked, and he'll get at least a temporary poll bounce.  Friday morning's talking heads will doubtless include others.  Andrew Sullivan thought so based on the leaked text, but changed his mind after seeing and hearing Trump's delivery.  Filmmaker Michael Moore believes Trump's message as expressed will resonate.

Even excluding consideration of the dark content and the accuracy, others felt it was a lost opportunity.  Both GOP and Dem vets thought so in this NYT piece that began: " It was Donald J. Trump’s best chance to escape his own caricature. He did not."

Doyle McManus at the LA Times agreed. "The general election Trump is no clearer, and no more disciplined in his thinking, than the Trump of the primaries was. What you saw then is what you’ll get – in both the general election campaign and in the White House, if Trump should win."

  It was long--the longest since Nixon in 1972--and at nearly 80 minutes went longer than prime time and perhaps a lot of attention spans (I'm surprised Trump managed to read a teleprompter for that long.)  How many viewers stayed tuned for the balloon drop?

Trump yelled the speech, getting redder in the face as he went on.  That plus his apocalyptic message may have been too much.  How many children will have nightmares?  Not to mention adults.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trump Lies, More Lies and Plagiarism

The Washington Post begins a detailed fact-check of Trump's acceptance speech: The dark portrait of America that Donald J. Trump sketched in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention is a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong.

When facts are inconveniently positive — such as rising incomes and an unemployment rate under 5 percent — Trump simply declines to mention them. He describes an exceedingly violent nation, flooded with murders, when in reality, the violent-crime rate has been cut in half since the crack cocaine epidemic hit its peak in 1991.

In his speech, Trump promised to present “the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper.” But he relies on statistics that are ripe for manipulation, citing misleading numbers on the economy, for example, through selective use of years, data and sources.

And my own reading of an account of the speech yielded this significant "plagiarism," once again from an Obama:

Trump received a standing ovation when he declared: “An attack on law enforcement is an attack on all Americans”.  July 21.

"Any attack on police is an unjustified attack on all of us," Obama wrote, repeating what he told the nation Sunday after three police officers were fatally shot in Baton Rouge.  July 17 & July 19.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Comrade Trump's Preemptive Surrender to Russia

We know that Trump's ego is Yuge.  But now Trump is attempting to be Hitler and Neville Chamberlain at the same time.

Previewing his acceptance speech, Trump gave an interview to the New York Times in which he refused to say that the United States would honor its NATO commitments in a specific instance, involving Russia, invoking the Comrade Trump Doctrine:

For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

The answer is nonsense at best, and preemptive surrender in effect. Bad enough he's destroyed the mutual defense pact and by inference every important treaty to which the honor of the nation is pledged.  But his pal Putin must be in orgasm.  Perhaps as he's pulling the strings.

But of course, the word of the world's superpower and the country he is aspires to lead, as well as world peace and the freedom of the western world is secondary to the Trump Ego:

When asked what he hoped people would take away from the convention, Mr. Trump said, “The fact that I’m very well liked.”

Has anyone told the Manchurian Candidate that the office he's running for is President of the United States, Leader of the Free World, Holder of the Nuclear Codes, and not Prom King?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

For What It's Worth: Nominating Comrade Trump

Apparently somebody in the process of nominating Trump quoted the first two lines of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth."  Even more surprisingly, he attributed it to Buffalo Springfield.  But still.  Wow.

There's something happening here and what it is may be all too clear.  The Cleveland Festival of Fear and Hate finished its second theme day; the first day was Fear, Tuesday was Hate.

It's not getting particularly good ratings, though.  Speaking of ratings, apparently the House of Ailes is falling over at Faux News.  Richard Wolffe in a piece called Roger Ailes built the Republican party – now both are crumbling in plain sight
 : "Ailes has lost control of the empire he built at the same moment he lost control of the party he in effect controlled."

As epic as that might be, the story of the day you really couldn't make up: In her speech at the RNC on Monday night, the wife of the nominee--he's the guy who demonizes President Obama at every turn--was caught plagiarizing an entire sequence from Michelle Obama's speech about her husband at the DNC convention in 2008 that nominated him.

The major media highlighted the robbery with side by side transcript quotes, audio and video mashups, while quaintly referring to "apparent" plagiarism.  What was especially interesting for a party and especially this group of people, who had so far shown a complete disdain for the concept of a "fact," is that they were faced with evidence in sight and sound that anybody could understand, and no one could contradict.  And yet, they did.  Or tried to.

Among the speakers on Tuesday was Chris Christie, who decided to organize the festival's favorite chant "lock her up" into a prosecutorial speech with the audience as lynch mob jury.  Not exactly reassuring in a potential Attorney General.  But I don't take that AG talk seriously.  I have to believe that the only way Trump is keeping Christie on board is that he's promised him a spot in the White House itself, where the power is, as chief of staff or some high position--so that when Trump gets bored with the job, as he will on Day Two,  Christie can wield the power.

Big Brother is watching you, and you're unbelievable.
Meanwhile the evidence of connections between Putin and Trump continues to build, including the role that Trump's current campaign manager (Paul Manafort) played in Russian politics, serving Putin.

These ties suggest more than a metaphorical relationship to authoritarian rule.  They suggest a dictatorial Trump in league with dictator Putin.  The GOP just nominated the Manchurian Candidate, Comrade Trump.

These ties suggested something specific to one of Andrew Sullivan's readers on his liveblog of the festival:

"Every time I hear “lock her up” at the convention, I just cringe.  When I think about Paul Manafort’s effort to help elect the pro-Putin Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, and they yelled “lock her up” in Ukraine, that’s exactly what they did. On trumped up political charges (ironically because she accepted, under duress, an unfair natural gas deal), Yanukovych threw former prime minister and his 2010 opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, in prison."

But temporarily free Hillary Clinton is set to announce her v.p. choice this weekend.  Signals coming out of her camp are all but announcing that it's going to be Tim Kaine.  Hillary told Charlie Rose her first priority is someone with the experience to take over as Pres, and she stressed to others that she's looking for foreign policy experience.  The only person on the leaked short list that fits this description is Kaine, who served on the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee.

Counter Programming

Tired of the Cleveland Festival of Fear and Hate?  Try this on for size.  (You'll want to go full screen for this one.)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Trumpence, Conventions and the Rolling Stones

To the strains of the Rolling Stones "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (and no, I'm not making this up), Donald Trump introduced his vice-presidential running mate, sort of.

In the small scale Saturday event in a New York City hotel, Trump talked for more than 20 minutes about himself, his victories, Hillary etc. before glancing down at the paper he was carrying and saying "back to Mike Pence."  After a few words more Pence came out, they shook hands, Trump left.  Pence talked about himself for 12 minutes.  Then he left for a hastily scheduled and not well attended welcome home rally in Indianapolis.

At least the event changed the subject, from reporting and speculation on Trump's reluctant choice (his first choice of Christie, some said, was vetoed by his daughter, whose father-in-law Christie as a prosecutor had sent to prison.  So, family values) to the most awkward, least organized introduction of a vp candidate anyone could remember.

The only folks happy with the choice apparently are the GOPer establishment, maybe in exchange for helping to quell the anti-Trump rebellion at the convention. Pence is unpopular in his home state, unlikely to have won reelection as governor, unknown nationally and otherwise a divisive figure.  And for the t.p. rabid right, I think Andrew Rosenthal chose the right word in the New Yorker, in his piece titled "Will Mike Pence Satisfy the Insatiable Right?"  Insatiable is the word.  So basically Pence doesn't help and doesn't matter.

Now coverage of the back-to-back conventions begins.  The first impression of the programs (Dems released theirs Saturday) is that the GOPer is mostly negative (Benghazi Night?  Now there's a prom theme) and the Dem's is all positive, thematically anyway. (GOP eventually released their positive themes.)  And the etiquette questions are different.  For instance, at the GOP it's "where can I bring my big guns?"

It's not really that funny, as the NY Times indicated: Police officials are promising there will be no untoward episodes as conventioneers confirm Donald Trump as their presidential nominee. But this seems small comfort in the aftermath of the carnage in Dallas last week caused by a deranged, and reportedly legally armed, rifleman who shot and killed five policemen during a demonstration organized to protest earlier shootings by the police in Falcon Heights, Minn., and Baton Rouge, La.

In the panicking crowds that night in Dallas were 20 to 30 armed individuals legally carrying rifles as self-appointed vigilantes who had vowed to somehow protect the demonstrators. Their presence — some were dressed in macho camouflage gear — greatly confused the police when the sniper started firing and protesters ran for cover. “We don’t know who the ‘good guy’ versus who the ‘bad guy’ is,” the Dallas police chief, David Brown, said.

But beyond such serious dangers, the electoral danger appears to be the current media overkill on how bad the GOP convention is likely to be (to which I gleefully contributed.)  With these expectations for an obvious clown show, anything less will be touted as a surprising success.  For one thing, it's very likely that the GOP convention will get high TV ratings (especially for all the Trumps), as it is the biggest reality show ever.

But with some polls tightening (mostly taken at the FBI moment) the question will be asked: if professional politicos and the media are so unanimous that Trump is doing everything wrong, what does it say about them or this election if on August 1 he is neck-and-neck or leading?

Things are aligning for Clinton to be pretty far ahead then.  Even if Trump's convention isn't a disaster, her convention comes immediately afterwards and it's the last one.  His post-c bump should be obliterated before it starts, while hers can build and linger.

But what if that doesn't happen?  What do the pros say, what does the media do?

Regardless, there is still one compelling argument, and Adam Gopnik makes it:

Hillary Clinton is an ordinary liberal politician. She has her faults, easily described, often documented—though, for the most part, the worst accusations against her have turned out to be fiction. No reasonable person, no matter how opposed to her politics, can believe for a second that Clinton’s accession to power would be a threat to the Constitution or the continuation of American democracy. No reasonable person can believe that Trump’s accession to power would not be.

"No reasonable person" is unfortunately the weak link.  Trump seeks to stir up unreasoning anger.  The rabid right will continue to do so, aided by their underground of Biblical prophets--and they're available to you on YouTube--who tell their followers that God tells them electing a woman President will mean that the United States will be a smoking ruin within months.

Reasonable people however may at worst have to suppress their Hillary distaste and realize that you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.

Friday, July 15, 2016

It's Mass Murder, but Is It Terrorism?

The wanton killing of more than 80 people in Nice, France immediately set off American politicians, especially Trump, Gingrich and co. but including Hillary Clinton.  They all exploded with plans to go at terrorists, and (in the GOPers case) Muslim terrorists even harder.

Now facts are starting to emerge about the 31 year old man who drove that truck through a holiday crowd.  He was Tunisian, with no known ties to any terrorist group or even much in the way of ties to Islam.

He carried with him in the truck a number of fake weapons and fake explosives, along with real guns.  He has a police record for theft and violence, and according to his father had mental health problems, and struck out violently at anything in sight.  Some of his neighbors said he was hostile and were afraid of him.

His crimes are unimaginably horrible.  In addition to the 84 deaths he caused so far, he injured more than 200, with 52 people still in critical condition, and a reported 25 in coma.

What this appears to be so far is not an act of Islamic terrorism, and perhaps in an effective sense, not of terrorism at all.  The object of terrorism is to cause terror for political gain, or as vengeance for a cause.  What this appears to be is mass murder by a deranged man.  The only "warning sign" anybody has come up with is a characteristic he has in common with other mass murderers--violence against women.

More information may yet yield a tie to terrorist organizations or a terrorist motive, but so far there is none known.  Yet this attack is a pretext for Trump to say as President he will declare war on ISIS.  The multiple problems with taking this literally must occur to junior high school civics students, or they would have in the pre-Pokemon-go era.  He cannot declare war on anybody, the Congress does that, and they can declare war on a country, but not on an organization or even the loose description of acts, such as terrorism.

It's a potent metaphor, declaring war, so just about everybody talks about their war on terrorism, including the president of France.  What the president of France ought to be considering is a way to put up barriers to prevent huge trucks from running through crowds at public events, regardless of the driver's ideology.  It seems entirely possible to me that this mass murderer had no symbolic intention in attacking on Bastille Day--he may simply have seen it as a big crowd opportunity, or even a big crowd of French if he had grievances against the government or the business bosses, etc.

He may well have copied terrorist attacks that involved mass murder, but I'm not sure that makes this terrorism in a way that justifies these responses.  Maybe his rationale was ethnic or racial even, though we may never know.  It may fit the working definition of a hate crime, and it is hard to imagine that hate wasn't involved. But the reaction so far from politicians leaping to conclusions and furthering the panic in populations over terrorism is unseemly at best.  And at worst it could lead to some very bad political choices.

Trump Repudiates Pence! (Well, not yet...)

Death in Nice, coup attempt in Turkey, usual dreadful signs of the Climate Crisis.  Is this why we need the Entertainer?  Is this what Trump is for?

(Remember that Billy Joel song, "The Entertainer"?  He once summarized it for me: "I am the Entertainer, I am so full of shit.")

Sowing the usual whirlwinds, Trump officially settled on Mike Pence as his vice-president.  After saying he wouldn't announce it Friday morning, he announced it Friday morning, but postponed the introductory event.  Several reporters were told he was trying to get out of it as recently as midnight.

(So there's another faction in the Trump campaign that leaked that Trump wanted somebody else, and since they leaked to CNN it may be that of the former campaign director who is now making a half million for propagandizing for Trump on what used to be an all-news network, and now isn't even a news network.)

What isn't being reported that I can see is that Pence had until noon Friday to declare whether he was running for reelection as governor of Indiana (not a sure win by any stretch) or not.  By Indiana law he can't run for two offices.  So he at least had to know.  Update: Now the NY Times has reported it. Pence's people filed the necessary papers after 11 a.

He might have been the only one who knew.  All the reports I've read say that neither Gingrich or Christie were told in advance that Trump had definitely chosen Pence.

To me it looks like the whole thing was pretty much engineered by somebody high in the Trump campaign, likely the head honcho Paul Manafort.  He likely had it leaked yesterday, including that Pence was on his way to New York for the announcement.  That seems designed to keep Trump from changing his mind.

But he probably did want to change his mind anyway, which doesn't bode well for this as a long-term relationship.  I fully expect that under the least amount of pressure, Trump will let it be known that Pence wasn't his favorite, and even that he regrets the choice.  There's more soap opera to come with this.

For now, the choice mollifies establishment GOPers like Paul Ryan, rabid religious righters and TP folk.   Trump evidently has chosen the Koch Brothers money (they like Pence) over Sheldon Adelson's money (he likes Gingrich.)  (So it's not clear how successful the GOP will be in begging Adelson to make up the $6 million shortfall for their convention.) Update: If he was trying to get Koch money, it didn't work.

 The choice of Pence seems designed first of all to get Trump through the GOP convention--and the idea that his opposition was already vanquished may have inspired him to want to dump Pence and get a soul brother, a fellow "pirate" as Gingrich said.

But Manafort also quickly unveiled the new Trump-Pence logo, so Donald really couldn't change his mind.  It's getting widely reviewed for its sexual suggestiveness.  My my.

Trump knows that Pence dissed him in the past. The pressure will increase as Trump sees (and is even asked about) Pence's statements in the past, from trade  etc. to the presidency itself-- that contradict Trump's most aggressive positions and rationale.

So now let the betting begin on how soon Trump disses Pence, and repudiates him.   Probably not in the introduction Saturday, but...

And if Trump manages to essentially forget about Pence, and sends him off to campaign in small towns and hamlets, the question come October might be...whatever happened to Mike Pence?

As for the losers, Gingrich is off using his almost-vp megaphone to get media attention for his outlandish out-Trumping Trump plan to interrogate every Muslim in America on whether they believe in Sharia law, and deport those who are dumb enough to admit it, or perhaps are convicted by special tribunals.

Christie is getting widespread whatever the cynical version of sympathy is, for this latest and biggest humiliation.  Borowitz suggests he's angry enough to refuse to pick up Trump's dry-cleaning.  

Meanwhile, announced speakers for the GOPer convention keep dropping out: the big star--Tim Tebo!--ain't going, and neither is Trump's daughter's rabbi.  But she's still speaking.  Maybe for a little longer than planned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lonely in Cleveland (with the Manchurian Candidate?) Updated

What if you gave a national party political convention, and nobody came?  We may find out Monday.

What this Republican convention will lack is...Republicans, apparently.  Other than delegates, a lot of GOP officeholders and political operatives are finding that they have to wash their hair that week.  Politico quotes one GOP politico: “I would rather attend the public hanging of a good friend.”

Corporations aren't giving as many open bar parties because, well, they aren't going either.  Neither are all the living GOP former Presidents (both Bushes) and GOP presidential nominees (except maybe Bob Dole?)  Nor the Republican governor of the state that is hosting the convention (awkward!) and that the nominee will need to win to win the election.

Among the missing will be so-called rising stars among the Republicans, including Senator Ben Sasse, who instead of speaking or even attending, will be "taking his kids to watch some dumpster fires," according to an aide.  For those who will speak, Republican strategist Wilson expects it will be like "a hostage video."“On Earth 2,” Wilson said, “you’d be showing the Republican Party isn’t this stupid white boys’ club. But Donald Trump has rejected everybody who’s not in the stupid white boys’ club. At this point, we might as well have a giant cross burning out front.”

This is Trump's triumph, his biggest reality show--and nobody has a clue as to what will actually happen there.  Although the potential for conflict outside the convention center--in an "open carry" state--has everybody worried.  Or as the AP advised: Demonstrators at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next week can’t have lasers, squirt guns or sledgehammers. But because Ohio is an open-carry gun state, those who are legally allowed to carry firearms can do so without a permit.  My only question is, why doesn't the Second Amendment cover squirt guns?  They're guns, right?  Is it because you can't kill people with them?

Meanwhile, Trump is doing his Apprentice: Vice President Edition on the road this week, with the few willing candidates.  Until now, as Jonathan Chiat put it, "this is a version of the Trump show in which a series of guests appear across the table from Trump to tell him they quit."

So Trump's finalists aren't exactly A list. Washington Post editorial put it: The fact that Mr. Trump’s vice presidential shortlist contains two unpopular governors and a disgraced ex-speaker of the House shows that his judgment is as poor as it seems to be or, more likely, that only desperate, unprincipled panderers would consider joining his ticket."

Trump didn't profit in the polls from his tough terrorism talk after Orlando (poll respondents overwhelming favored Clinton's calm approach), and it appears he didn't profit from the FBI report on Hillary's damn e-mails.  Jennifer Rubin notes one poll on the issue of trust in which he's still trusted less, and the latest Reuters poll has Clinton increasing her lead to 13 points.

The June Pew poll, which successfully forecast the winner and pretty much the winning margin in 2008 and 2012, has Clinton winning by 9 points.  It also shows that overall people feel good about the economy.  Other surveys show the incumbent President is popular.  These are two traditional indicators that favor Hillary.  The Pew poll also suggests that voters take this election seriously, and that the Democrats have made huge inroads with more educated voters.  Put those two together and it looks like the spectre of Trump is scaring folks straight.

While the Trump campaign claimed a good money-raising month in June, Hillary had a better one.  And talk persists of lack of national organization, and ground game staff in battleground states.  So Jennifer Rubin--the Washington Post's designated conservative view--seems bullish on a delegate revolt in Cleveland, but she seems pretty much alone in that.

Trump's inability to demagogue recent events (including accusing Clinton of bribing the Attorney-General, and the AG of accepting a bribe) is one good sign of health in the process.  Another is that the media is refusing to take his bullshit.  Politfact examined 158 assertions by Trump and found that 78% were false or mostly false. Some 60% were judged totally false. The Guardian began what might be a regular feature: the lies that Trump told this week.

I don't think a fact-checker was needed for the audience in Monessen, PA (though they got one) when Trump blamed the decline of the steel industry on Bill Clinton. It's within local family memory in western PA that  big steel had collapsed by the early 80s, when Reagan was President (and contra the NPR summary, it really began to collapse in the late 70s.) I certainly remember it.

Stories that found that Trump overstated (at best) his charitable giving--and that he used money meant for such giving to buy a Tim Tebo helmet--just scratch the surface.  An investigative reporter details in Politico the evidence that Trump had ties to the Mob even from his early Trump Tower days, and his construction business attempts in Russia--as well as Russian investment in some of his U.S. projects-- may have something to do with his cozying up to Putin, which helps Putin's political agenda of weakening the West.  And once again a break-in--of Dem oppo research on Trump on their computers--may be involved.

 This last story (in Slate) needs some serious follow-up.  Are we seeing a reality show version of the Manchurian Candidate?

Brexit on Steroids

Last week the Brit government denied the petition signed by some four million citizens to hold a second Brexit referendum.  That was predictable--the terms of the petition would have changed the rules after the game was over by insisting on a 60% vote to Leave.

But what was surprising was the withdrawal of one of the two remaining candidates for PM over the weekend and the quick decision by David Cameron to make his resignation effective immediately, not months from now.  Meaning that as of today, Theresa May is the Prime Minister of the UK.

Candidate May said that the Brexit should begin without delay, so it seems the UK could invoke Article 50 and begin the process more or less immediately.  Big change.

What does it mean?  Nobody knows.  This sudden burst of speed does seem to be responding to the financial pressure that resumed after a brief period of hope that it wouldn't actually happen after all.  In fact, the most persuasive long term prediction I've read suggests that when it's all figured out, the big loser will be the UK financial sector (especially the banks) and that's what will hurt the British economy.

Beyond Brexit, what kind of PM will Theresa May be?  Apparently not even the Brits know.

Though she kind of looks like Donna's mom on the David Tennant Doctor Who, doesn't she?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A New Heart

From the memorial service in Dallas to mourn the loss of five police officers shot and killed:

“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.”
George W. Bush

"And today, in this audience, I see people who have protested on behalf of criminal justice reform grieving alongside police officers. I see people who mourn for the five officers we lost but also weep for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In this audience, I see what’s possible -- (applause) -- I see what's possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment, all deserving of equal respect, all children of God. That’s the America that I know.

We also know what Chief Brown has said is true: That so much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves. (Applause.) As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. (Applause.) We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. (Applause.) We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book.

That’s what we must pray for, each of us: a new heart. Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens. That’s what we’ve seen in Dallas these past few days. That’s what we must sustain.

With an open heart, we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right."

President Obama

These words of reconciliation, like other quotes out of context, don't give a full picture of this speech.  It also told hard truths, both about what each side is ignoring and what each side is right about, and about the difficulties of  achieving progress.

  Behind the President were police in uniform and people not in uniform, some wearing black.  Among this background group visible throughout the speech, the black women completely followed and understood everything he said (recognizing at times the church cadences), the white women much of it--you could see that.  The white men wore white men masks.  So who knows what they heard?

But President Obama outlined the problems and the approach to solutions.  He expressed doubts and failures, but recognized successes and insisted on hope.  He did what a President is supposed to do: he represented the whole nation, including its history and its hopes, and what they must mean now, and for the future.

Update: The New York Times said President Obama's speech "will most likely be seen among the rhetorical high-water marks of his presidency." Historian Michael Beschloss said it was "elegant, moving and powerful." It was also praised by the Dallas Morning News.  But it was viciously attacked by right wing and rabid right media, including castigating those who praised it, like Chris Matthews and historian Douglas Brinkley, who said it had touches of Lincoln.


Veep speculation?  Let's join the fun.  If Trump really wants to please party GOPers, he'll pick Pence.  But....he's Trump.  Does he want to please party leader Paul Ryan, who said publicly today that Trump should choose a conservative (and of the three commonly named as most likely, that's Pence) or does Trump want to stick a finger in his eye?  Well, he does, but will he?  If he goes with this instinct  he'll pick one of the loyalist fellow big mouths, Christie or Gingrich.  Because Trump-Pence just sounds boring.

If he picks Pence he'll regret it (rightly or not) but it will signal how much he feels he needs from the GOPer establishment.  What's key here probably is any preference by the chair of the RNC.  Trump absolutely needs the RNC, or this campaign will cost him big money, and there's no bankruptcy law governing presidential campaigns.

Hillary they say will wait until Trump announces to make her final choice.  With the speculation centering on either Elizabeth Warren (the most daring, exciting choice) or Tim Kaine (safe, boring choice), she might turn to Tom Perez, current Labor Secretary, who she likes, is Latino, popular with labor, will go after Trump.  Warren could complain about Kaine, but not about Perez. Perez causes no political problems in depleting Dems in the Senate, and is another tie binding Clinton to Obama.  Clinton-Perez, that's an historic ticket.  But it may depend on Clinton's evaluation of whether he's got the goods to be President if he has to be.

A Latino on the ticket, by the way, will likely mean the GOP will have to look hard at defending places like Arizona and Texas as well as Colorado and Nevada.

Like Trump's choice, Clinton's will say something about what kind of candidate she wants to be.  Warren says, full out attack.  Kaine says "safe," Clinton is the safe choice over crazy Trump.  Perez says, willing to lose some suburban white votes to get Latinos for a generation--because right now, she is not as far ahead of Trump with Latinos as she might be, according to certain polls.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Weapons of Choice

Apropos my final comment in yesterday's post, President Obama talked about the role of the prevalence of guns in recent U.S. violence.  He said that more armed citizens contribute to tensions with police.  He noted that Texas is an open carry state, and some at the Dallas protest march were armed.  (This included a man who was photographed carrying a rifle, which is legal, but became a 'person of interest' as a result.  He was later released, but not before the photo was all over the Internet, leading to a steady stream of death threats.)

“Imagine if you are a police officer and you are trying to sort out who is shooting at you and there are a bunch of people who have got guns on them,” he added.

“We can’t just ignore that and pretend that’s somehow political or the president is pushing his policy agenda,” Obama said. “It is a contributing factor. Not the sole factor, but a contributing factor to the broader tensions that arise between police and the communities that they serve. And so we have to talk about that.”

What the President did not say is that scared cops with their finger on the trigger are also a contributing factor.  Maybe if citizens weren't as likely to be so well armed, police officers might not be compelled to draw their guns as easily.  But the ease and speed with which cops can fire multiple shots seems part of it all.

In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik posted an essay titled The Horrific, Predictable Result of a Widely Armed Citizenry.  It begins with the memory that immediately springs to the minds of many of a certain age when hearing the words "Dallas" and "shooting:"

"The killings in Dallas are one more reminder that guns are central, not accessory, to the American plague of violence. They were central fifty-plus years ago, when a troubled ex-Marine had only to send a coupon to a mail-order gun house in Chicago to get a military rifle with which to kill John F. Kennedy—that assassin-sniper also fired from a Dallas building onto a Dallas street. They are central now, when the increased fetishism of guns and carrying guns has made such horrors as last night’s not merely predictable but unsurprising. The one thing we can be sure of, after we have mourned the last massacre, is that there will be another. You wake up at three in the morning, check the news, and there it is."

Regarding the week's most publicized gun killings:

"A black man with a concealed weapon should be no more liable to be killed than a white man with one. But having a nation of men carrying concealed lethal weapons pretty much guarantees that there will be lethal results, an outcome only made worse by our toxic racial history. Last night’s tragedy was also the grotesque reductio ad absurdum of the claim that it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. There were nothing but good guys and they had nothing but guns, and five died anyway, as helpless as the rest of us."

He concludes:

"Once again, the difference in policy views is clear, and can be coolly stated: those who insist on the right to concealed weapons, to the open carrying of firearms, to the availability of military weapons—to the essentially unlimited dissemination of guns—guarantee that the murders will continue. They have no plan to end them, except to return fire, with results we know. The people who don’t want the regulations that we know will help curb (not end) violent acts and help make them rare (not non-existent) have reconciled themselves to the mass murder of police officers, as well as of innocent men and women during traffic stops and of long, ghostly rows of harmless civilians and helpless children. The country is now clearly divided among those who want the killings and violence to stop and those who don’t. In the words of the old activist song, which side are you on?"

Friday, July 08, 2016

The Difference

Two articles today note the prevailing tone in response to the shooting in Dallas that claimed the lives of five police officers. Rare restraint in political reaction after police shootings was the headline to the Washington Post story.  Both presidential candidates cancelled their Friday events and condemned both the killings in Dallas, apparently by a black supremacist, and the killing of two black men by white police officers in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis this week.

Newt Gingrich even said that whites do not understand what it is like to be black in America.  Trump's statement, which bears the hallmarks of being constructed by someone else, was uncharacteristically sober, bland and even-handed.  The only element that suggested it came from Trump was a misstatement of fact.

There were cases of sensationalist provocation, as in the New York newspaper headline of "Civil War," and an attention-getting threat implying race war and attack on the black President by a rabid right former member of Congress. (He later retracted this implication, perhaps sensing an imminent visit from the Secret Service.)

While this guy (and other rabid righties) blamed President Obama, because he says that police violence against innocent black people is frequent and wrong, the other article makes a case that today's restraint and even-handedness is partly due to the persistent efforts of President Obama.

In his column, Jonathan Chiat begins by evoking Obama's famous "Yes, We Can" speech after the New Hampshire primary, in which he said--not for the last time, or really for the first--that America is not as divided as it seems.  Today's measured response, he writes, is "a vindication, also, of the vision of unity Obama had attempted to summon eight years before and never abandoned."

On this specific issue, President Obama did more than offer words.  Chiat notes Obama's statement from Poland, responding to the two shooting incidents (but the day before Dallas): "Last year, we put together a task force that was comprised of civil rights activists and community leaders, but also law enforcement officials -- police captains, sheriffs. And they sat around a table and they looked at the data and they looked at best practices, and they came up with specific recommendations and steps that could ensure that the trust between communities and police departments were rebuilt and incidents like this would be less likely to occur."

Many police departments are in the process of institutionalizing these recommendations--  but “a whole bunch that have not.” Change takes time. (This is another Obama belief.) as Chiat put it.  But it's more than a belief.  With our single-image view of history, we miss how long things take, and the bigger they are, most often the longer they take.

Chiat concludes:

If there is a single premise dividing Obama from his critics on both the left and the right, it is that intractable conflict is irrational rather than rational. The promise of reasoned, evidence-based progress is gains for all, not merely for one group at the necessary expense of others.

Obama’s placid vision is obviously not a panacea. There are murderers, racists, and hysterics afoot who will not calmly gather around the table for a data-based discussion of reforms. There is an element of struggle to his vision — a contest to maintain calm, to impose order over chaos and reason over passion. The dissidents to Obama’s vision, by necessity and by definition, are loud and conspicuous. They capture our attention. But they are not the majority, and they are not bound to prevail.

Although this assessment may appear "placid," President Obama has also expressed strong emotion in response to both the Dallas shooting and a long litany of shootings with black victims.  NPR lists some of these responses.

It is also worth noting that guns--the police fear of guns, the easy recourse by police to lethal force with their guns--dramatically make these situations worse. (WAPost correlates gun culture and police shootings, and the LA Times looks at whether the bombastic "second amendment rights" apply to blacks.)  And now we apparently have a first--a lethal robot, armed with a bomb.  What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, July 04, 2016

A First on the Fourth

"We just did the hardest thing NASA's ever done," said participant Scott Bolton, as the spacecraft Juno confirmed that after a five year journey it had successfully gone into orbit around Jupiter.

The space age commenced with Sputnik, often described as about the size of a basketball.  Juno is a sophisticated, heavy shielded research vehicle that is the size of a basketball court.

Jupiter is in one of the most dangerous places in the solar system, due in part to the heavy radiation of this massive world.  Jupiter is also the first planet in the solar system to be formed, and so Juno's observations may shed light on obscure cosmic history.

In addition to all the scientific instruments, there is a camera, the JunoCam, that is reserved for public use.  As this New Yorker article notes: "Freed from the burden of scientific responsibility, amateurs and enthusiasts will be able to vote online to determine where JunoCam points and which features it captures. “It will provide the very first views of Jupiter’s poles, and the most incredible close-up views of the planet ever seen,” Bolton said. “I expect we will probably discover some new moons, too. But it’s really a public camera.” Already, JunoCam’s discussion boards are alight: six-year-old Bee wants more photos of the red spot, while Hogarth-11 is voting for a closer look at greenish dots near Jupiter’s equator."

Update: Washington Post expands on the science to come during this mission, and adds this about Jupiter: "Jupiter is so massive that it's heftier than everything else in the solar system (except for the sun) put together. More than 1,000 Earths could fit inside it. It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma — both its raging surface storms, which include the Great Red Spot, and its hidden core remain largely unknown to science — and learning more about the strange planet could help us understand the building blocks of life on our own planet and beyond."

NASA also extended the working lives of 9 ongoing spacecraft missions.  As Carl Sagan pointed out in the final episode of Cosmos--which by coincidence I watched again tonight, in its digital restoration--it was by studying other planets that scientists here discovered the ozone layer (recently showing signs of healing, thanks to efforts begun decades ago) and the likely phenomenon of nuclear winter.  Even earlier, James Lovelock began formulating his Gaia theory based on studies of Mars.

Recent observations by the Curiosity Rover suggest more strongly that Mars was once much like the Earth, with an atmosphere and watery oceans. What went wrong?  Venus is another cautionary tale, for it seems to be a lifeless victim of runaway greenhouse heating.  These planetary neighbors are reminders of how fragile is our purchase on this planet, with its wisp of an atmosphere as our life-giving protection.

Sagan remains a touchstone for the ethics of space exploration.  For him (unlike, say, the makers of the film Interstellar) it's not an either/or proposition.  Space exploration and care of the Earth must coexist, and the Earth always comes first.

The New Yorker article notes that several other space missions came to fruition on July 4.  This July 4 also happens to coincide with Earth's Aphelion, or the farthest point from the sun it reaches in its orbit.  (As this piece points out, that distance has a lot less to do with our surface temperature than the planet's tilt that determines the seasons, but it is thought to be related to periodical Ice Ages.)

These jostle with the other significant anniversaries on this date, such as the Declaration of Independence, the death of its author, Thomas Jefferson as well as John Adams, the birthday of George M. Cohan and--the 18th birthday of Malia Obama, whose father led the singing of Happy Birthday at a White House event.

Friday, July 01, 2016

And Counting

No live version measures up to the original, in my still crazy opinion.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

    From Trinidad Head; June 30, 2016.

How Terribly Strange

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The New Civil Right

Congress adjourned early for the Fourth of July weekend, but eventually it will return to Washington--and maybe a suddenly changed Washington.  I can't let too much more time go by without taking full note of what happened in the last days before its early break.

Without warning, a group of House Democrats staged an actual sit-in in the House of Representatives, demanding a vote on a gun control bill.  It was officially begun at the House podium by Rep. John Lewis, one of the last great heroes of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

"I wondered, what would bring this body to take action?” thundered Lewis, who as a young man marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “What is right, what is just for the people of this country? … They have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence. What has this body done? Nothing. Not one thing.”

Commented the LA Times: The scene, including chants of “No bill, no break!” was like nothing that has occurred in Congress in recent years, more reminiscent of the civil rights battles of the 1960s than today’s often predictably scripted debates.

The ranks of protesters grew until nearly every House Democrat (one who hadn't joined yet got a phone message from his mother telling him to get down, and he got) and even a few Republicans joined in.  Democrats from the Senate came over to offer support, not just in words but in the more spirited form of tasty junk food.

The protest went on into the night, and culminated in a surreal scene of protesting House members disrupting GOPer Speaker Paul Ryan's attempt to ignore them and conduct majority business.  He finally had to adjourn.  Amy Davidson provides a fuller narration.

The protest, according to the WAPost, was about more than gun control. "It was the culmination of rising Democratic anger about the increasingly conservative reign by the GOP House majority..." and in particular about Ryan's reign. "Even Democrats who admire Ryan said they were done treating him with grace and that more disruptions would come in the months ahead. “There will be no more business as usual,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who served four years as the top Budget Committee Democrat while Ryan chaired the panel."

The specific bill at issue had to do with denying guns to people on terrorist watch lists, which as Jelani Cobb noted in the New Yorker, has civil liberties problems due to the secrecy and lack of recourse involved in some of those lists.

 Cobb's main point is that such a bill really doesn't confront the daily crisis of gun violence.  But the sit-in itself recognized this, as members of Congress spoke in heartfelt terms of constituents killed and maimed by guns, or even family members, or even threatened by guns themselves.  (Not to mention Gabby Giffords, who sent her support for the sit-in in the House where she would still be a member if not for her gun wounds.)

Such a bill doesn't confront the gun tragedies that continue, such as the gun-proud mother in Houston who shot her two daughters repeatedly until they were dead.  Nor does it confront the power of the NRA or its financial backers, the gun industry (subject of a powerful New Yorker piece, "Making a Killing.")

  But that a bill intending only to keep likely terrorists from buying guns (even as the Supreme Court affirmed laws preventing anyone convicted of domestic abuse from ever buying a gun) would be politically impossible to even discuss, suggests how far the Congress is from dealing with this deadly problem.

It is precisely in such cases of intransigence that a sit-in becomes a necessary and an electrifying tool.  Cobb confirms my impression, that the sit-in and particularly the leadership of John Lewis elevates the gun debate into the realm of civil rights--the right to be protected from gun violence.

Stay tuned.